From a recent interview with Tom Schreiner about his new book, The king in His Beauty.
Why is understanding the tension of the “already but not yet” so crucial to rightly understanding the Bible? How might grasping this practically help a Christian struggling with sin?
If we don’t understand the already but not yet, then we simply won’t and can’t understand the Scriptures. For example, when the kingdom comes in Jesus’ ministry, the dead are raised, demons are cast out, and the sick are healed. Satan’s kingdom is overthrown! The Gospel writers clarify that victory over sin and Satan are due to Christ’s death and resurrection.
But what does this mean for us today if the kingdom has come? After all, sickness is rampant, death seems to reign over all, and Satan is alive and well. The answer is the already but not yet. The kingdom has arrived in Jesus and, among other things, the gift of the Spirit demonstrates that the kingdom has come. And yet there’s an eschatological proviso. Christ is risen, but we await the day of our resurrection—the final day when disease, demons, and death are no more.
How does this perspective relate to our continuing struggle with sin? The already/not yet teaches us that we won’t obtain complete and final victory over sin during this life. Perfection won’t be ours until the day of resurrection, and so we’re called during this present evil age to wage war against sin, realizing at the same time we won’t be entirely free from it. The “already” warns us against passivity: we have the gift of the Spirit and therefore must walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, march in step with the Spirit, sow to the Spirit, and be filled with the Spirit. The “not yet” reminds us we are not all that we want to or will be.